When I visit campuses I sometimes hear the following complaint about making evangelism an explicit value: “We’re an academic institution, not a Bible college!” The underlying worry is that the academic mission will be displaced by evangelism. My response is that I don’t think this is the right way to think about evangelism as a core institutional value. We’re Christian academic institutions, so values like evangelism, worship, and service should permeate everything we do.
Nevertheless, if evangelism displaces our academic majors, or if it becomes that one course taught in the Bible department that some students take, we have missed our Christian academic mission.
Instead, evangelism should be a value that shapes our academic mission.
There are many ways this shaping might take place. For instance, evangelism might be a component of a core class all students take, where the relationship of the gospel to the academic subject matter is explored as part of the course. Students might have an assignment where they discuss how sharing the good news of Jesus relates to that subject matter as a means of assessing an academic outcome for the course.
Another idea would be to have a capstone outcome on evangelism that provides orientation for how departments can shape some of their faith and learning activities so that students can successfully demonstrate that outcome as part of their capstone work.
Let me share an example. In my weekly physics senior seminar, I strive to talk about how the gospel relates to my students as lovers of Jesus and lovers of physics as we move through the seminar material. We have one session devoted explicitly to talking through issues and opportunities for sharing the gospel as physics majors going out into the world. I have a capstone assignment where they write about how they see ways of building a bridge from a conversation about physics to the gospel or what difference the gospel makes to life as a physicist. This enables me to assess how students are meeting the evangelism outcome for their capstone and how our senior seminar and other programs in our department can better equip students to go deeper with their faith and learning.
Having evangelism as an outcome also shapes how I think about faith and learning in my teaching of non-science students. In my Global History of Cosmology general education course, I have students compare Christianity and the gospel to the different cosmologies we study from around the world. Then, one of the options I give them for their final paper is to describe one of those cosmologies and tell me two or three bridges they can build to the gospel in a conversation about that cosmology.
Whether students elect to do this option for their final, they all have had repeated experiences of engaging the gospel in the course and can see that even their general education courses are relevant for evangelism even though these courses are not about evangelism.